Friday, October 19, 2007

Dinesh D'Souza isn't very bright...

Dinesh D'Souza isn't very bright.

He's also not as intellectually rigorous (or honest - I'd rather hope he's unthinking than dishonest) than I, making claims about a general group (atheists) because of his personal feelings about particular members of the group.

(Yes, I know... it's piss-poor[1] reasoning to use personal feelings when making factual statements about others. I did say he wasn't very bright, didn't I?)

His claim is as follows:
But for all their credentials and learning, the atheists have been duped by a fallacy. This may be called the Fallacy of the Enlightenment, and it was first pointed out by that great Enlightenment philosopher, Immanuel Kant.

The Fallacy of the Enlightenment is the glib assumption that human beings can continually find out more and more until eventually there is nothing more to discover.

Actually, I have yet to meet an atheist who made any statement that could even twisted into such a claim. The claim most atheists make is "I see no reason to believe that a being or being that can be called a god or gods exist". Some make a stronger claim ("no such beings exist"), but atheism is marked by the absence of belief, not the belief of absence.

D'Souza continues in his way, making additional unfounded assumptions, claiming that this idea that he thinks atheists hold has been disproven by Immanual Kant (who, as I'm sure many of you know, was a real pissant, who was very rarely stable[2]).

Kant pointed out something important: we can't observe the universe; we can only observe *our perception* of the universe. To put what I guess is probably a more modern spin on his idea, when I look out the front door, I think I see a tree, but what I actually see are neurons firing in my brain, caused by light rays being reflected by the tree. My brain's model of a tree is not the tree itself.

Kant then says (assuming D'Souza is right, which I don't assume, but will accept for the sake of the argument) that there's a reality external to our perceptions, one that creates the things we perceive. That's a reasonable assumption, and the only one most folks could make. I mean, isn't it awfully weird to think that the keyboard I'm typing on is all an invention of our shared belief that there are such things as keyboards? It's weird, but it's an alternative explanation. It seems ridiculous, it seems all-but-infinitely improbably, but it is an alternative explanation.

But let's assume D'Souza's presentation of Kant's argument: that there is a world outside us that we perceive. Where does that take us?

Well, it shows that we won't ever know everything about the universe, because we can't step outside of our perceptions of it and compare our perceptions to the "real" universe. And... what?

Well, from there, D'Souza says that Kant proves that atheists are wrong. Wrong about what? Well, wrong about the assumption that D'Souza made about them. See, D'Souza has decided - without any basis - that atheists believe they can know everything about the universe. Kant suggests that they will never know everything about the universe. Voila! Atheists aren't very bright, because they have to all be like D'Souza imagines them, because, well, just because.

When people attacking atheism use reasoning like this, it's not really surprising when atheists hold a low opinion of theism. D'Souza has engaged in a straw man argument: he's set up a strawman atheist, and then knocked it down. One does not have to believe that we'll eventually know everything about the universe to not have any reason to believe in a god or gods.

It's certainly true that we perceive the world only according to what we are able to perceive. It's certainly true that this might (or might not) be the "true" way the world is. We can be pretty sure it's not perfect (since our brains aren't perfect), but all that suggests is that things might be different than we think... maybe even more different than we can even imagine. It says nothing about atheists.

But claiming that it does say something about Dinesh D'Souza.

[1] A reference to the movie Armageddon.

"Look, you said we did a bad job on it..."

"No, I said you did a piss-poor job on it."

[2] A reference to the Philosopher's Drinking Song by Monty Python. Heidegger, on the other hand, was a boozy beggar who could think you under the table...

Great take-down!
This comment has been removed by the author.
"Actually, I have yet to meet an atheist who made any statement that could even twisted into such a claim."

you aren't paying attention then, you all do this.

and I'd guess hes smarter than you.

"You" all do this suggests that you believe that I'm an atheist (since that's the subject of D'Souza's complaint).

That is (to reference the movie Armageddon again) piss-poor reasoning.

Whatever smarts D'Souza might have, he's good at casting broad generalizations, and I have little respect for people who do so. It's sloppy thinking at best, dishonesty at worst. An intelligent person, therefore, disdains such generalizations, to avoid both.
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